Why is Christmas the only holiday to merit “ghosts” of days past? It seems to me that Thanksgiving, like any other special day, could have its ghosts worthy of examining. So let’s talk ghosts for a few minutes — two in particular — aspects of the past we may encounter around the holiday table.
Thanksgiving is typically a “family” event — a time for visiting, overeating, and maybe a little high school football. But the expectations of festivity? Everyone getting along?
From Great Uncle Harry complaining about sciatica to your annoying brother’s even more annoying second wife — what if what is supposed to be enjoyable turns into a bitch-fest, a fight over politics, or an occasion for dumping on the pudgy 10-year-old grandchild?
We know that expectations should always be tempered with a sizable dose of reality. We also know that political partisanship these days has many a house divided. But what about the “timeless” activity of criticism? What about an age-old prejudice that anyone who is overweight must be overindulgent, undisciplined, and likely lazy?
First, there were the eyes on everything my mother ate — admittedly, as a woman who struggled with obesity her entire adult life, she was an easy target — and along with watchful surveillance, there were comments. Then more comments. There was lecturing. Then more lecturing. I remember times (at my grandparents’ home) when my mother left the table in tears… and then they started in on me.
For anyone who thinks it is appropriate to make comments about anyone’s weight or eating habits at a holiday meal — think again. We can debate the reasons and the effectiveness of commenting (at all) — but trust me, Thanksgiving dinner is not the time.
Embarrassment is not a viable means of persuasion. And criticizing a child or a teen is even crueler (and more pointless) than doing so when your target is an adult. All it accomplishes is encouraging an eating disorder!
My ghosts of holidays past? Meals like that. Comments and looks. Pain… that only drove me, as it did my mother, to worse eating habits out of resentment, a sense of feeling unloved, and for comfort.
So if you’re tempted to maintain a watchful eye over what others are eating and judge, especially as we enter the holiday season, let it go! For the next six weeks or so, could we cease commenting and criticizing what others eat? Don’t you think that we, ourselves, pay attention to proper, healthy eating? Don’t you think we’re doing our best?
Could we not roll our eyes — especially at a child or teenager — who is happily going for a second serving of stuffing or back to the dessert table to try a second type of pie?
I would like to think so.
An offset of those troublesome ghosts: I remember some wonderful Thanksgiving meals in my mother’s kitchen. Her habit was to invite foreign students from one of the local universities (where she worked for 20 years). Since many were unable to return overseas for so brief a period, their company around the large, kitchen table was delightful for them and likewise for us!
Besides… my mother could be a larger-than-life personality, and she was a helluva cook. Those Thanksgiving memories are delicious, on all fronts, from her homemade cornbread to pumpkin pie, and oh… her stuffing! (Amazing.)
In the spirit of that enjoyment of food, I would like to offer a traditional (but “easy as pie”) recipe around my house — for mini pecan pies — they’re delish!
Were my older son to be home for the holidays — he will be, at Christmas — I would persuade him to bake his Apple Sharlotka. (I love it. He loves it. He learned to bake a number of desserts from scratch during his time living in Switzerland a few years back. Both of my sons cook. They love to eat, so learning to cook was essential.)
Now, for one more ghost to do with my adult life rather than my childhood — this is for the separated and divorced parents. When you are a two-household family, splitting holidays can be difficult. I generally had my sons with me at Christmas — that week or two was split — but they nearly always got on a plane and flew to another part of the country for Thanksgiving with their father.
It was something I had to get used to, but putting them on a plane never ceased to be painful. In fact, even all these years later, I can’t remember the last time I had my boys with me on Turkey Day.
Spending any holiday alone can be rough (I know), and for single parents who may be sending children off (or missing them when they’re with the other parent), special days may come with ghosts — not to mention an assortment of logistical headaches.
For those single parents who may be dealing with this, I find Laura Lifshitz’s tips on making the best of spending Thanksgiving without your kids to be very helpful. Ms. Lifshitz makes a point of reminding us to remind them of the fun they will have, and also, the many ways we can productively and enjoyably spend our time.
And… if you know someone who is alone, even if it seems very last minute, do extend an invitation to join you. And if you are the one who is alone — take it from me, I’ve been there, often — some of the tips in Laura’s article apply whether you have children or not.
On a final note — this has been a trying time for many in the United States — that “house divided” issue. Let us be grateful that we live in a place where we can disagree. Let us remember those who stand guard and fight for us to enjoy that right. Let us love and honor our families and friends, and be respectful of our differences, rather than judgmental. Last, let us be open to welcoming those who are from cultures unlike our own, as my mother was, all those decades ago, laying a rich foundation for friendship and understanding through the very diversity that this country is founded upon.
As always, I thank you for reading and sharing the conversation. I wish you a wonderful holiday.
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